Note: this post has been edited on May 10, 2013, to reflect very helpful information I have received this morning.
According to Texas Legislature Online, S.B. 1700, a bill that would significantly alter funding and other aspects of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, has or will be placed on the “Intent Calendar” tomorrow, May 10, 2013. So far as I can figure out, this placement is the predicate for a vote on the bill in the Texas Senate. This masterpiece of special interest legislation may thus be nearing approval (or rejection) by that part of our bicameral legislature in the next few days. To become law, however, it will need approval by the Texas House and signature by Governor Rick Perry.
The best explanation I have received of what this means comes from former Texas House member Patricia Gray, with whom I have had the pleasure of working for many years. She writes:
In the Senate, there have to be 21 votes to bring a bill to the floor. If it is on the intent calendar, Larry Taylor is counting to see if he has the 21–if he does, he can ask [Lieutenant Governor David] Dewhurst to call it up for floor debate. From there it only needs a simple majority (16) to pass the Senate. Time is getting very short — if he can’t move it in the Senate, it may it may not make it. I think tomorrow [May 10] is the last day for House bills to pass in the House, so unless there is a House vehicle to attach it to when House bills get to the Senate, it will not pass if he doesn’t have 21 votes to get it to the Senate floor.
Here are more official explanations.
Senate rules require that bills and resolutions be listed on the regular order of business and be considered on second reading in the order in which committee reports on the measures are submitted to the senate. During a regular session, the senate adopts a further rule specifying that before a bill or joint resolution may be brought up for floor debate out of its regular order, notice of intent must be filed with the secretary of the senate by 3 p.m. on the last preceding calendar day the senate was in session. A senator may give notice on no more than three bills or resolutions before April 15 and on no more than five bills or resolutions on or after April 15. Senate rules direct the secretary of the senate to prepare a list of all legislation for which notice has been given. The list, called the Intent Calendar, must be made available to each senator and to the press not later than 6:30 p.m. on the day the notice is filed. No bill or resolution may be considered on its first day on the Intent Calendar, and a vote of two-thirds of the senators present is required before any of the measures listed on the Intent Calendar may be debated. The senate rules do not require measures to be brought up for consideration in the order listed on the Intent Calendar, and the senate routinely considers only a portion of those measures listed on the Intent Calendar for a given day. A senator must give notice from day to day for a measure that was not brought up for consideration to remain on the Intent Calendar. Any provision of the senate rule governing the Intent Calendar may be suspended by a vote of four-fifths of the members present.
Here’s another explanation:
Lacking a calendars committee, the Senate relies on the Intent Calendar which schedules bills for general consideration in the order in which they are reported favorably out of committee. However, the Senate does not follow this order. At the beginning of the legislative session, a dummy bill (not intended for floor action) is placed at the top of the Intent Calendar, making it necessary to take up all other bills outside of the regular order.
To do this the sponsor of the bill or a member of the reporting committee must get recognition from the President of the Senate (the Lieutenant Governor) to make a motion to take up a bill outside of the Intent Calendar order. Two-thirds of the members who choose to vote must approve such an action.
If the bill is taken up by the Senate, it is given its second reading, at which point it is opened for debate and amendment. As in the U.S. Senate, there is a tradition in the Texas Senate that permits members to speak for as long as they wish (or otherwise can physically sustain). When members try to kill a bill by “talking it to death” and using up so much time that the rest of the Senate agrees to move on, this is known as a filibuster.
If the bill is approved on the second reading, it is ready for its third reading and, ultimately, final approval. As in the House, amendments are allowed at this point and require a two-thirds majority vote of members present.
Although the Texas Constitution requires that a bill receive each of its three readings on three separate days, this rule can be suspended by a four-fifths vote of members present. Though the House rarely uses this motion, it is routinely used in the Senate to pass non-controversial legislation, particularly toward the end of a legislative session.